Art of Linking Tricks
Starting to create sequences can be a very frustrating endeavor for both dog and handler. It’s very common to see new players struggle through simple sequences doing damage to their established tricks and to their relationships with their dogs.
There are a few simple rules to follow to help make creating sequences a smooth and successful process.
Start With a Strong Foundation
Our frisbee dog foundation should be laid with treats. Each component skill must be taught and understood by both dog and handler before we go out and try to use them as part of a sequence.
Sequences are nothing more than behavior chains, and a sequence is only as strong as the weakest link in that chain. Each behavior in the chain must be strong. if a link in the chain, a component element of the sequence, is not solid, the sequence will break down right there at that point. Especially if we add stress.
If the sequence breaks down at the same place and time, we should be sure to put some additional emphasis on that weak link outside of working the sequence.
Repetitive failure is habit forming. It’s much better to take a couple steps back and isolate, then strengthen, a weak link than it is to try to push our dogs through right through it.
Set clear and attainable Criteria
We need to have a good plan that can succeed and stick to it. It’s very important that our dogs know what behaviors are being asked for and that they have the ability to perform the behaviors that are being asked. Shifting gears with our dog while creating complex behavior chains is a recipe for failure.
That being said, we, as Disc Dog handlers, must be on the lookout for mistakes that are cool. We must be observant enough to notice when a mistake is cool and be flexible enough to take advantage of situations that present themselves that could create a special trick or sequence.
We must also be aware of the need to switch gears to keep the flow of the lesson going, to keep the energy level of the game up. If we have a dog that is starting to get confused or is otherwise struggling it is a good idea to go back to an easier or high value behavior to get some success and to funnel that success into the behavior chain at hand.
Let’s play a game:
Do you want to play any more?
OK let’s try again…
We turn off to games that are too hard, and so do our dogs. Setting attainable criteria is a must.
Ease Into It
When teaching a new sequence to our dogs, one that will challenge them, we want to make sure that we ease into it. Walking out onto the field and working on a troubled or difficult sequence while our dogs are totally cold and chomping at the bit to play is probably not going to be successful.
We need to warm them up. We need to give them a gimmee or two. Perhaps we work a sequence that is similar, or fall back on the progression that we used to teach the sequence with treats.
Success builds upon itself. The more successful we are the more apt our dogs will be to have the confidence to handle greater challenges. When we work on difficult sequences most of our time should be spent keeping our dog’s energy level and success rate high. It’s simply rate of reinforcement, really. We do fun things that are easy. We get the dog engaged. We get them fired up. Then we ask them to try something a bit more challenging while they’re flying high and having fun.
When we try something that we know will challenge our dogs it’s a good idea to spend at least 3 or 4 times as much time building them up for the challenge as actually working the challenge itself.
This one probably should have been first, but if it were first nobody would read any more. We’d all be out working with our dogs.
Breaking the behavior chain down into it’s component links and rewarding each one will improve the clarity of the task at hand. The criteria will be clear and our dogs will understand what’s being asked. Our dogs will be successful. Let’s say we want to teach Through (handler wheels to face dog)…Flip…Spin…Leg Vault:
We ask the dog through and the handler wheels to face the dog. Give a wait command. Hold a second. Then we toss the flip and give the cue to wait. Give the spin cue then the wait cue. Hold a sec. Leg Vault. Long toss for a reward, a little praise party, then we do it again.
After several run throughs of this sequence broken up by waits, we should have a dog that totally understands what’s coming. Now we can let it rip and our dog is will know what’s coming next. Not only will they know what’s coming next, but they will be happy to be free to move freely instead of having to do that darn wait!
If any of the components starts to break down, work the sequence and place value immediately upon the completion of the challenging behavior with a bite or some other reward.
This is an extremely important technical concept, not only for success but for safety. If we do this right, our dogs totally understand what’s coming and we, as handlers, have the ability to deliver well placed discs and to be well positioned.
So let’s recap:
- Clear and Attainable Criteria
- Ease into it
- Trick…wait… Trick
- Go Live